Photo via Santiago Mejia/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
SNEAKERS & FASHION

‘Big Bubble’ Air Max 1: Nike Teases Throwback Rarity

Just after “Air Max Day,” the Swoosh is readying next year’s marquee release: the “Big Bubble” Air Max 1. Boardroom examines what this obscure oddity means in the larger realm of retail.

Time after time, Nike has revisited the revolutionary running sneaker that changed everything in the footwear industry.

The Nike Air Max 1, designed by the great Tinker Hatfield, ushered in a radical rerouting of how to mass market a shoe. For years, the brand or athlete attached served as top-billing when selling a shoe. With Air Max, Hatfield introduced a different catalyst: the technology.

Nike Air had been around since the Air Tailwind in 1979 — sold as even more of a performance perk by way of basketball’s Air Force 1 in 1982. But to that point, many consumers had only felt Nike Air. Few had truly seen it.

This all changed in 1987 with the introduction of the Nike Air Max 1: a performance running shoe that featured an inside look at the brand’s biggest innovation.

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Infamously, Hatfield drafted off the polarizing Centre Pompidou in Paris, exposing Nike’s trademark technology for the world to see. Over the course of the next decade, brands around the world raced to create and market their own visible cushioning technology as a means to remain relevant and spark sales.

While the original Air Max 1 stands as a triumph in modern sneaker culture, released in retro form countless times in its original colorway amongst new styles, it turns out that Tinker’s radical runner was actually a scaled-down expression of his original intention.

As Sole Collector’s Riley Jones points out, production pairs of the Air Max 1 made in 1986 actually featured a larger Air Max bubble than what we’ve now come to know and love.

Sporting a longer visible Air unit when first sampled, this “Big Bubble” rarity relished in the concept of fully exposing the cushioning but proved prone to crack under the pressure of running wear. In turn, Nike went back into the lab and created a smaller window Air Max 1 that we’re accustomed to seeing on shelves today.

Next year, that all changes.

Last Friday, to set up Air Max Day 2022 on SNKRS Live, Nike Air Max product line manager Jamie Paige and footwear designer Jon Kosenick provided a preview of the “Big Bubble” Nike Air Max 1 ‘86 set to release in 2023.

According to the livestream, recreating the original 1986 sample style took three years given issues with cracking and changes in the manufacturing process. Now nearing retail readiness at long last, fans can expect this vault oddity to have likely 12 months for the hype to mount, as an Air Max Day (March 26, 2023) release date seems imminent.

While the return of an original Tinker Hatfield sample is amazing, it also points to the Swoosh’s repositioning of their first-ever Air Max model.

So far in 2022, the Nike Air Max 1 has been boutique in regard to allocations and construction.

Concepts collaborations and Air Max Day launches have headlined the model that was once mass, all coming in with heightened fabric, higher price tags, and additional chase. It’s as though Nike is repositioning their original Air Max running shoe the same way the Jordan Brand has realigned the lifestyle supremacy surrounding their lauded Air Jordan 1 High.

If this trend tracks, one could imagine an even higher retail price for the 2023 “Big Bubble” style.

In the past, Nike, Inc.’s Air Jordan property has returned retro releases from their signature series with archival branding. By simply stamping the heel of an Air Jordan 3, 4, 5, or 6, with Nike Air tagging as seen on original styles, the retail prices have been pushed up as much as $40 per unit. Clearly, the Air Max 1 ’86 has the same cachet in novelty and nostalgia, also being able to claim an additional three years of research and development to deliver a bigger Air bubble.

Moreover, if this “Big Bubble” experiment works for the Air Max 1 in 2023 — which it almost certainly will — the stage is set for the same treatment for the Air Max 95’s 30-year anniversary in 2025.

OG Nike Air Max 1 from 1987 (Photo via Nike, Inc.)

For decades, admirers of the 1995 Air Max style have sulked over smaller Air Max units on retro renditions, clearly cut in size to save money on production costs. The passion and precedent can be set on this AM1 experiment — playing out the same way it has for rebranded Air Jordan retro releases over the years.

When considering 2022’s Air Max Day variations of the Air Max 1 already demand asks of $200+ despite dropping for $160 box price in stores just hours earlier, Nike has the leverage to raise the retail mark on the shoe that started it all while resetting the floor for the entire franchise. It’s hard to argue any brand has benefitted more from the aftermarket than Nike — able to point out price data for demand thanks to sites such as StockX while controlling the narrative around the supply of hyped products thanks to their SNKRS App and more direct-to-consumer sales.

Strong storytelling makes this all possible. Air Max itself is an international brand, with Nike now proving it has the power to reset its origin tale. Fans who picked up every Air Max 1 retro release in its original White/Red motif throughout history have real reason to pick up another pair, reaffirming the importance of the new launch while making previous pairs less relevant.

Interestingly enough, Nike is doing all this masterful marketing by diving deeper into vintage and the obscure for fashion purposes rather than sell the world on a radical new innovation meant for sport. Ironically, the latter was what the original Air Max 1 was sold on.

Still, it’s hard to hate as this reset and release will likely prove another win for collectors and shareholders alike.

In 2023, it appears Nike will once again influence the industry by doing something radical. Luckily for them, there’s no competitor under the sun with the history or marketing clout to match.

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